W. Jay Milligan had a theory on why demolition derbies are so popular.
"If you have ever been sitting at a traffic light and the light turns green and the guy behind you lays on the horn, what would you like to do? Some people may want to take a hammer to the car. That’s what demolition derby is for. When a driver enters a car in the derby, 10 of his best friends come to see him win. Five enemies also come to see him get his butt kicked," he told The Buffalo News in 2015.
This year's World's Largest Demolition Derby, the finale of the Erie County Fair on Aug. 20, will be dedicated to the memory of Milligan of Lakeview, a motorsports promoter who died March 20 at the age of 85.
Milligan’s life will be celebrated prior to the start of this year’s derby during a brief ceremony and moment of silence before the roar of the engines takes over the GUSTO Grandstand.
“Jay’s innovations in the motorsports and thrill show industry added greatly to the success of the Erie County Fair over the past fifty years," said Dennis R. Lang, CEO and fair manager.
Milligan produced the first demolition derby at the Erie County Fair in 1963, and his company, JM Productions, was a driving force behind the "World's Largest Demolition Derby' and later the "Ultimate Night of Destruction."
In addition to being a demolition derby promoter, Milligan performed most of the stunt driving in the 1974 James Bond movie, "The Man with the Golden Gun," and his American Thrill Show was the promoter of all the stunt driving in the movie. The climax of his outdoor shows, a mid-air, 360-degree barrel roll called the astro-spiral, was included in the movie.
"When does an adopted kid from West Chester, Pa. ever have the opportunity of being a stunt director and driver of a James Bond car," Milligan asked in a 2015 interview with The Buffalo News.
"He always lived a busy life," said his daughter, Sheryl Zielonka. "Up until the day he died, he was still working."
Milligan grew up in South Buffalo, the adopted son of a Buffalo milkman and a New York telephone operator. He discovered the allure of automobiles as a lanky high school student in Hamburg when he drove his mother’s two-door 1934 Chevrolet Master to school. When he was 19, he participated in his first demolition derby.
His JM Productions company later put on demolition derbies throughout the country.
Milligan once told The Buffalo News that the winner of a demolition derby "will be the driver with the wherewithal to be cautious and not to have his car hit in the front end, and yet always have a competitor as a target. So he’s got to be cagey and smart with some mechanical skills under the hood."